The proliferation of mis- and disinformation in recent years is cause for grave concern, particularly, with the attendant risks to minorities and human rights. Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices were pleased to see Humanity Matters New Zealand publish its report on misinformation, disinformation and online antisemitism in Aotearoa. While the report communicates important aspects of the lived experience of antisemitism, its passive use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism has mingled legitimate expressions of protest with racial hatred. Sadly, that colours the results and constitutes a lost opportunity.
The survey is the first publication by Humanity Matters, a new human rights-oriented NGO. It foregrounds the experience and concerns of Aotearoa’s Jewish community. It offers helpful definitions of disinformation and misinformation and contextualises this in social media and in the recent COVID encounters. The report clearly identifies far Right individuals and organisations in Aotearoa as a source of antisemitic sentiment, and makes many helpful recommendations to challenge and change perceptions of the Jews and Judaism in Aotearoa.
Regrettably, Humanity Matters did not use Aotearoa’s prevailing definition of antisemitism (see note below). Instead they included unlimited “criticism of Israel” or “criticism of Zionism” as a category labelled “political antisemitism”. We reject the category of “political antisemitism”, as should all reasonable people. Antisemitism is the hatred of Jews or Jewishness. Criticism of Israel need not necessarily target Jews or Jewishness at all. Humanity Matters has poorly defined the phenomenon that the study seeks to measure.
The report notes that some members of the Jewish community consider that ‘to be anti-Zionist is to be antisemitic whilst others in the community hold these as separate issues, and for this they can experience exclusion within the Jewish community’ (p. 12). Without further discussion, the authors of the report then adopt the position that criticism of Israel or Zionsim is indeed a core element of antisemitism. They decline to survey or analyse the experience of non-Zionist Jews who regularly experience attacks on their Jewish identity by the Zionist-Jewish community.
The IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and stigmatises political protest and human rights advocacy. By declining to distinguish protest from hate, Humanity Matters has reproduced the stigma. Intentionally or not, Humanity Matters has continued the demonisation of the very human rights that the organisation was formed to advance.
According to the survey, anti-Zionist or anti-Israel sentiment is experienced nearly twice as often as any form of classic antisemitism. By reporting this uncritically as antisemitism, its frequency overshadows the real, growing, threatening antisemitism of the far Right which demands our national attention.
Justice for Palestine and Alternative Jewish Voices advocate for Palestinian rights across a range of social media platforms. We manage our messaging with care and remove posts with comments that descend into actual antisemitism. Indeed, membership of Justice for Palestine is contingent on agreeing to a statement that:
Justice for Palestine events and social media will not tolerate any act or discourse which adopts or promotes, among others: racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Any prospective or current member found to be in breach of this condition will have membership declined or removed.
However, we reserve the right to critique actions of the Israeli state which fly in the face of international law and human rights, such as the slaying of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh, the repeated bombings of Gaza and killing of Palestinian civilians, and the land incursion in Masafer Yatta. We highlight and reject the underlying colonising ideology of Zionist settlers in the Occupied Territories.
Our activities challenge Israel’s violations of law and human rights. Humanity Matters has allowed the human rights work of our organisations, and all citizens of Aotearoa involved in the promotion of Palestinian rights, to be vilified as antisemitism. Their study includes misinformation about the nature of antisemitism which tarnishes and chills work for Palestinian human rights.
Humanity Matters aspires to be an organisation of “caretakers of truth working at the intersection of education, history, and human rights” (p.2). Any organisation with such significant aspirations must adhere to the highest possible standards on the promotion of universal human rights.
It is not too late for Humanity Matters to acknowledge the problem with this study, in a way that lets us all focus on their other, valuable findings. We strongly recommend that Humanity Matters and the report’s funders consider an addendum that sequesters their damaging “political” category. Yes, Jews in Aotearoa are increasingly uncomfortable that Israel’s actions are rejected when they disregard international law and human rights. And, yes, Jews in Aotearoa live with the looming threat of real antisemitism, which is anti-Jewish racism. Once contextualised, the first statement need not obscure the second. The idea that this report might be used as an educational resource in schools, whilst including the category of “political antisemitism”, is deeply disturbing.
Alternative Jewish Voices writes regularly about antisemitism, and both organisations care deeply about the intent of this study. We want everyone who opposes the far Right to understand antisemitism as a core element of that dangerous world view, and to read the experience of their Jewish neighbours recorded in this study. Let that experience start conversations and shape action.
For an alternative perspective on antisemitism and Palestinian rights see our video interview with Michael Lynk, former UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Palestine.
Written by: Neil Ballantyne (on behalf of Justice for Palestine) & Marilyn Garson (on behalf of Alternative Jewish Voices).
Image credit: Marco Verch https://flic.kr/p/2auTCPA
Notes: See the Human Rights Act s(28) s(21) s(61). See also https://www.hrc.co.nz/files/2915/7653/6167/Korero_Whakamauahara-_Hate_Speech_FINAL_13.12.2019.pdf page 20. To understand the difference between Zionism and Judaism, and the implications of the IHRA Working Definition, see https://ajv.org.nz/2022/07/18/no-ihra-for-aotearoa-this-does-not-define-us/